Conservatives in a cleft stick
If there were ever a letter writer from Tunbridge Wells in Kent who would write to the Daily Telegraph and sign himself “Disgusted,” he would now be signing himself “Very Disgusted.”
Speculation on the autumn budget suggests major tax rises, but the rises are not increases in income tax or Value Added Tax. The tax rises being mooted are taxes on wealth, they are taxes on second homes, on capital gains, on corporations, on online transactions. The focuses of the taxation are those those that would have been targeted by a Left-wing Labour government, that they are the initiatives of a Conservative government is enough to disgust any traditional Tory.
The Conservative reading his newspaper at the breakfast table must wonder at the turn of events. How did the electoral triumph of December 2019 lead to a situation where a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer declared that the government would be “unencumbered by dogma” and introduce measures that would have been condemned as reckless socialism if they had been introduced by a Labour government?
Of course, the Covid-19 crisis has created circumstances that demanded extraordinary responses, but other approaches might have been adopted. A Thatcherite monetarist would have been firmly of the opinion that government subsidies only create inefficiencies and delay the inevitable cuts that will become necessary.
The exclusion of the monetarist response is a consequence of the electoral politics of the post-Brexit period. Boris Johnson’s rise to power was made possible through the creation of an unlikely coalition of traditional Conservatives in the south of England and disaffected working class voters in the north of England. Without those working class constituencies, the so-called “red wall,” his government would be without a majority.
The cleft stick in which the Conservatives now find themselves presents them with two choices, each as unpalatable as the other.
Tory traditionalists who are unhappy with the direction of the government, who are opposed to tax rises, massive public spending, state intervention, and nationalisation could decide they want to shift the party back onto familiar ground. They could seek to rein in Boris Johnson and insist on the path of austerity that would address the budget deficits. It is a path that would be detrimental to electoral prospects. Voters used to generous promises and generous spending will not readily accept programmes of swingeing cuts.
Alternatively, Conservatives can choose the path that offers further electoral successes, a path that means a continuation of the Left-wing policies of the past months.
Boris Johnson likes to be liked, it seems likely he will continue to stay on the Left of centre. How much longer the party in places like Tunbridge Wells will tolerate socialist policies will be intriguing.
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